Now more than ever for our generation, Christians are sensing that evil is alive and well, maybe even that we are living in enemy territory where Satan is ruling. But this should be no surprise to us, for he is considered the “god” of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) and his entire goal is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). And what I’ve been sensing from the Christian culture is that Christians lately are tempted to sink down in a corner and sulk, licking their wounds and playing defense. We’re tempted to isolate ourselves from the world and build walls around our homes and churches to keep all of the sinning out, like monks in monasteries. But is this really what God, who sent His own Son into this world, would have us to do? I don’t think so.
Let’s take some notes from a portion of Jesus’ critique to the church of Pergamum, a church body that He built right where Satan’s throne is.
Revelation 2:12-13 says,
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
The church at Pergamum was built right in the heart of where Satan’s authority was. Satan is not omnipresent like God is so he has to take up residence somewhere and it appears that Pergamum may have been that place during this time period. It was the perfect place for him to set up shop.
This city was basically the capitol of Turkey at the time. It was a powerful city, a city that boasted the second largest library in its day, second only to Alexandria, and was a hotbed for pagan religious cults and emperor worship. On the highest acropolis, there was a temple to Zeus. Just below, a temple to Asclepius, the god of healing, where people might lay on the floor of the temple and hope that a snake would touch them, and they’d be healed. His symbol was the entwined serpent on a staff, and still a medical symbol to this day. The title picture above displays some of the artwork still found on the ruined pillars in the temple area. Then you had the temple of Dionysius, the god of wine and frivolity which yearly brought a giant Mardi-Gras-like party to the lustful city. And to cap it off, there were 3 temples to the imperial cult that worshiped the Roman emperor.
It was the imperial cult that one could lose their life over if they refused to pledge allegiance to Caesar by offering incense and worshiping him as god, saying, “Caesar is Lord.” Story has it that Antipas was a local dentist or physician who was secretly propagating Christianity and was therefore, accused of disloyalty to Caesar. Then he was condemned to death by being shut up in a copper bull and it was heated until red-hot. Whatever happened, this man died for his faith in Christ in the sight of many onlookers and just like with Stephen from the book of Acts, Jesus was one of them! One of the most encouraging things about his letter is that Jesus personally takes note of the faithful witness of local churches and individuals.
Even though they lived in one of Satan’s strongholds, we should be emboldened by how they lived as faithful witnesses for Jesus Christ! As believers, we weren’t called to isolate ourselves in nice, little, quiet monasteries out in middle of nowhere or to sulk and moan and groan about the state of our culture! We are called to have the attitude that we are soldiers of Christ who invade the territory of the enemy, going behind enemy lines. As God sent His Son into the world, so we are to go into all the world and be in it, but not like it!
Being in the world but not like it, by the way, is extremely important to point out because Jesus did have to rebuke those who were in Pergamum and who were getting involved in the immoral and idolatrous temples for business reasons or simply to satisfy their lustful cravings (Rev. 2:14-16). Please be careful to note that Jesus’ sword can be used to judge His people who are living in the world and like the world.
Verse 16 urges us to repent of the worldliness, saying,
“Therefore repent; or else I am coming quickly,
If you need to repent, do so now. Take Jesus' warning seriously as if this letter was written directly to you and your church (because it is). You can't be an agent of change in the world if you are just like the world.
But ladies and gentlemen, be encouraged by the conditions that the church of Pergamum faced. Be emboldened. Just like God built that church in the heart of Satan’s authority, so God has placed you in a strategic place at a strategic time to pray and reach out and share the gospel with those who have been taken captive by the enemy. You are here for such a time as this. He has not given us a spirit of fear or cowardice, but one of power and love and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7). Does that mean it won’t at time be extremely difficult? Of course not. But when it gets difficult, we refuse to quit. We get on our knees and pray. But we also get up and go serve like the Savior.
With the church at Pergamum, be encouraged by the sword that Jesus has in His mouth because although all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12), one day Christ will come and execute vengeance on His enemies with that double-edged sword from His mouth (2 Thess. 1:4-10; 2:8). It is more important, Wiersbe said, to fear Christ’s sword more than the emperor’s! So stay bold. Stay faithful. There will be rewards for being a faithful witness as a church and as an individual (v. 17).
Verse 17 speaks of the rewards,
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
For refusing to offer incense one may have not been able to do business and therefore lacked bread in Pergamum. But Jesus offers us “some of the hidden manna” of Himself – the Bread of Life to all the faithful. Also, to get into a temple party you might receive a white stone with a pagan god’s name on it. But Jesus offers us a white stone with a new name on it that allows us to enter the marriage supper party of the Lamb.
Praying you be encouraged by where Christ builds His Church,
Special credit to Dave Wyrtzen and his Truth Encounter ministry on Apple Podcasts.
Truth Encounter, Built On Satan's Throne (Rev. 2:12-17), 28 Sep 2020.
Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ words to the seven churches from Revelation 2-3. They are so precious to us because of their commending praise and honest correction! In these couple of chapters, Jesus critiques seven churches which were actual churches in apostle John’s day (the author of Revelation). What is interesting about these churches and the critiques they received, is that they represent so well the various churches and conditions that are seen in all generations.
But what has stood out to me from these letters to the churches recently is not what the churches may represent for our age or even the specific content. What stood out is the method in which Christ addressed the issues each church was facing. For example, to the church of Ephesus, He writes,
“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love....”
Here, I think we can learn a highly valuable lesson from Jesus in the order and structure of His approach to Ephesus and a few other churches by how He gives a commendation, when He can, before He gives the rebuking correction. Every good leader and teacher and parent should take note of this.
One of the best ways to build someone up and help set them on the path to flourishing is to start out with positive reinforcement (not to be confused with the self-esteem movement that ignores sinful behavior). Positive attitudes and work ethic build off such praise and commendation and makes the correction easier to accept to the individual receiving it. To constantly ignore what is good and praiseworthy, while addressing only what needs improved, can lead to exasperation with its negativism, discouragement, and frustration – especially in our kids. That creates a home nobody wants to be come home too!
As a personal assignment this week, seek to give more praise and encouragement and see what happens! Try commending before correcting!
In Christ with you,
Without reading ahead, I want to describe something to you and see if you can figure out what “thing” I am describing. Are you ready?
So did you figure it out? It's time! Just the thought of it reminds us of the brevity of our life on this earth. The Bible describes our lives as a mere breath (Ps. 144:4), a passing shadow (Job 8:9), as a flower that comes forth and withers (Job 14:2), and as a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14). That being said, we must learn to use our time wisely. That’s what the Apostle Paul would have us consider in Ephesians 5:15-16. Paul writes,
“Therefore, be careful how you walk,
Paul, at this point in the letter to the Ephesians has already spent the first three chapters teaching them about who they are in Christ. Now, in the second half of the letter, he is teaching them about how to live in Christ, and part of that means is we start managing our time wisely.
The idea of walking in this verse is not literal walking. It’s talking about the habitual pattern of your spiritual lifestyle from day to day. How are we to walk? Paul says carefully, or as some translations say, circumspectly. It means to walk with exactness. It means you are alert, looking from side to side to see what’s going on. You are careful where you step because you have an exact and narrow road to follow that leads to an exact destination.
Recently, I was graphically reminded of the need to walk circumspectly when my dog had to wear a cone around her neck to keep her from chewing and licking a wound. With no peripheral vision, she was running into all sorts of things! On her way to her kennel, the rowdy, high-energy Labrador clumsily ran into the doorway, the wall, the coffee table, and even stepped in her water bowl before I could help guide her! She wasn’t able to walk circumspectly! The cone threw off her exactness.
As believers, we are to be careful how we walk, not as unwise but as wise. But what differentiates the wise from the unwise? Paul says the wise make the most of their time by doing the good will of the Lord in a day when evil is working hard. You are either wise, being careful to live for the Lord, or unwise, being careless of God’s will for your life.
This is quite shocking, but to the unbelievers wasting their lives by living for themselves and with no sure destination, Paul invites them to accept Christ in verse 14 with what is likely a portion of an early Christian hymn,
"Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
An unbelieving “sleep-walker” can become wise by turning to the Lord and doing His will. But for the believer, Paul is saying, if you are in Christ, then live like it! You have been called to walk a wise, living walk. You have a destination. You don’t wander around aimlessly like a “sleep-walker” but as one who is alive! Use your time to serve Him! Live on mission, for you don’t even know if tomorrow will come (James 4:13-14)!
Some translations have translated “make the most of your time” as “redeem the time”" or “buy up your opportunities”. Time can be “purchased” in the sense that we exchange it in the market of life for activities and opportunities that are eternally valuable. Similarly, time is something that, like finances, must be managed. Without an organized budget, finances can easily drift into the red zone of debt. And without an organized “budgeting” of our time, the produce from our lives may end in a big negative red zone as well. But let it not be so of believers who have been called by God unto salvation. We want to be walk worthy of that calling (4:1) and be wise stewards of our time who make a positive return on the time the Lord has entrusted to us. (See Luke 12:41-48)
The problem with discussing time is that many don’t think they have enough time to take on more responsibilities and opportunities to serve the Lord – and for some, this is definitely true! Many of us do too much! But before you come to the conclusion that you’re doing too much already, ask this question:
“Is this just an excuse for time that is already being poorly managed?
The reality for many of us is that if we were better time managers, we would have more time!
Just stop and think: Even if in each week we allot ourselves 8 hours of sleep, 3 hours for meals and conversation, 10 hours for work and travel, and 10 hours for recreation, we still have 31 hours each week to fill! If this is true, J. Oswald Sanders says, “Our problem is not too little time but making better use of the time we have.” What we do with those surplus hours, after provision has been for work, meals, and sleep, he says, “will determine if we develop into mediocre or powerful people.” These hours can determine whether we’re a flash in the pan or grow spiritually rich! How we spend time now determines who we are in the future.
Pastor Gordon MacDonald in his book Ordering Your Private World wrote about how when we do not manage our time well, there are strong but subtle effects we need to consider:
1) our days become filled with broken commitments and excuses,
2) we invest in small, secondary matters (tyranny of the urgent) rather than essential obligations we are called to do,
3) we feel poorly about our work, knowing we have done our second-best, making it hard to even receive compliments,
4) we rarely enjoy intimacy with God,
5) our personal relationships are hindered, and
6) we just don’t like ourselves, our jobs, or much else about our world!
After considering Sanders’ and MacDonald’s words, we’re left with no excuses and no reason to keep on living like sleep-walkers. Now is the time to be a person who is awake and alive with Christ, living on mission like Christ!
Jesus is the perfect example of someone who managed His time well and “bought up” the time. Even though His life was short and His ministry was extremely busy, He was not mastered by time. He was the Master of it! He spent His time doing the things that mattered, which were all under one basic heading: the will of God. Doing the will of God was more important than eating for Jesus – “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” For Jesus, 24 hour days were sufficient for Him to accomplish all the will of God for His life. He understood that opportunity is to time as time is to eternity.
"opportunity is to time as time is to eternity"
So what are some ways that you can invest the time that God has given you today? This semester? This year? Every day there is something to redeem: It may be a Bible to be read, a prayer to pray, a person to share Jesus with, a hand to lend to a neighbor, a spouse to love, a child to nurture and train up in the Lord, a spiritual gift to exercise, and more!
Consider some more wise words from Mr. Sanders:
“Minutes and hours wisely used translate into an abundant life…. The best use of one’s life is to spend it for something that will outlast it. Life’s value is not its duration but its donation – not how long you live but how fully and how well you live it.”
When are you going to redeem the time? He is worthy of your time well spent.
In Christ’s love,
J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, chapter 12.
Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World, chapters 6 & 7.
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